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Rescues Underway At School Devastated By Mexico Quake; Maria Lashing Puerto Rico With 140 MPH Winds. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2017 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:11]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. I think we're going to pick up right where we left off. Looking at the Mexico earthquake and the aftermath there.

I want to take you right where we are and we want to be careful as we watch these pictures and listen very closely. This is at a site in Mexico City, this is really what we have -- where all eyes are at this moment, with devastation throughout the city of Mexico City, of course, one of the busiest cities in the world.

This is where all eyes are and all hearts are at this moment, a school in Mexico City where it has now been confirmed, according to officials there, as the shot goes in and out, we'll stay with it as much as we can, 21 children and 4 adults are among the dead reported at this elementary school in Mexico City.

But as you see, what appears to be methodical but desperate search underway, as we speak. Guys, do we have -- are our reporters up? Where are we going to be headed? We're trying to get our reporters up. As you know, communications are going in and out.

I want to get the very latest from what we hear in Mexico City. And I don't know if we have audio here, but I'm trying to listen in to see if we can hear anything from it. And I'm not hearing any audio right now. But we are watching, as you can see, we're told, this is -- let's listen in for just a second. See what we can hear.

We're watching these pictures, of course. This is the deadliest earthquake to hit the country of Mexico, of course, coming tragically on the anniversary of the last deadliest earthquake to ever hit Mexico in 1985.

More than 200 people are dead throughout the region. Mexico City, one of the busiest cities in the world, if you can imagine, and we've seen building after building has come down in the strength of this earthquake, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake.

And the problem here, as we've been -- as folks have been discussing throughout, this was a shallow earthquake. That is why you're seeing so much destruction. There have actually been drills throughout the city on this anniversary of that horrible tragedy in 1985.

Nothing, though, could prepare you for something like this. We're keeping our eye on this school as this tedious and very careful search is underway. There were reports much earlier that maybe up to 30 people were still missing. A lot of conflicting information, though.

We're waiting for official word on everything. You see those pieces of wood, that is what these very specially trained rescue teams are using as you can tell to prop up what is obviously collapsed portions of the building of this elementary school. We'll keep our eye here.

We also want to go to our Rosa Flores, who's in the heart, in the center of Mexico City. She's been reporting on this throughout. Rosa, we're keeping -- I'm sure you aren't able to see the video that we're seeing, Rosa. We're keeping our eye here. But this is just one of so many devastating stories coming out of this horrible earthquake.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's agonizing for these parents, Kate. I've talked to a lot of parents here, where I'm at, where this building has collapsed behind me. And these moms are in agony, waiting, hoping, praying that their loved one will be emerging from the rubble alive.

And I'm sure that's the exact same experience that these parents at this elementary school are living right now. I've seen moms who haven't slept all night. Their eyes are swollen. Every now and then, they just begin weeping as they're overcome with emotion as they're hoping for the best news.

Now about that school, we have learned that about 700 people were out trying to go through that rubble, sifting through the rubble, picking up the pieces, putting them in buckets and driving them off, hoping to find signs of life.

The other thing that we've learned about rescue workers and what they're doing is they've been listening through cracks in these buildings that have collapsed, listening for signs of life, and then following those signs, trying to calculate how they can remove this rubble carefully so that they can preserve life, but remove the rubble from above them.

[11:05:01] It's a very delicate dance. And one of the biggest fears from family members that I've talked to here is that rescuers will go from doing this by hand, to using machinery. That is their biggest fear because, of course, as I mentioned, it's a very delicate dance.

They listen for signs of life. They remover the rubble very carefully, hoping to preserve life. And Kate, as you know, a machine would never be able to do that, because a machine would just go in and take the rubbles and pieces of rubble out. That's the biggest concern right now, at this hour, here with the parents that I've talked to.

Now, the list of missing here is at 39. I just talked to a gentleman who says that the list was created with tears in their eyes, because -- I'm sorry, I'm just trying to monitor, because I see a lot of people running.

With tears in their eyes because there's at least 39 people who have -- who were in this building, who family members believed are trapped, who family members believe are alive. And so, at this hour, there's a lot of prayers going on, there's a lot of agony.

But then, there's also a lot of hope that loved ones will emerge from the rubble alive, Kate. But, again, a lot of tense moments as this search and rescue continues in Mexico City.

BOLDUAN: Yes, there aren't enough words to describe the tension and the agonizing wait that these families are having to live through right now. I want to go back to the site of the school, as this search continues. Gustavo, you're still there. Can you hear me, Gustavo?

GUSTAVO VALDES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): I do. I can hear you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: We heard -- it looks like we heard cheering just moments ago. I see them raising their hands in the air, maybe for quiet. What's going on right now?

VALDES: It is kind of confusing because we did see an ambulance quietly leave the area. But we're also seeing a lot of people continuing to go in and out of the area. They have gone to a smaller, more detailed removal of the debris and there's a team of four doctors on standby, right in front of me.

They're waiting for instructions to see how they can proceed. And they have, you know extraction I've seen in other places, including neck brace and a little table. A small table to stabilize the child in case that she is rescued in the next few minutes.

But the activity continues, there's not a clear -- there seems to be a clear command down at the scene, about a block away from where it's all happening, but I'm being told that the Mexican Marines are in charge of the rescue efforts and they are the ones who are going to give the official word when this comes to an end, if, indeed, they find somebody alive, or it's just another step on their search for more victims (inaudible).

BOLDUAN: Yes, let's go through exactly what we're seeing because the images are very important. And Gustavo, just stick with me. You're seeing, as Gustavo is talking about the tools, they're not using large machinery right now.

They're working -- you see them passing buckets, bucket by bucket. They're passing debris back and that is what all those workers there are standing around. You can see that the wood, they've used wood pylons, if you will, 2 x 4s, almost, to try to hold up and try to bolster what is clearly a collapsed rooftop or a collapsed floor, depending on where they are.

As they're clearly searching for someone. Gustavo, I want to make sure we're really clear, we have heard previously from the president of Mexico that there were some 30 people that were still missing Tuesday night. Are there still some 30 people that are still missing at the school today?

VALDES: Officially, we haven't heard any number. Overnight, they had set up a signup sheet for those that have somebody missing, so they could write the name and then for people to come back and write the names of people who have been found.

However, we're hearing from security people there that a lot of people just came and signed up names and they're not sure if they're real or not. So, we haven't heard officially from somebody here on the ground as to the actual number people that might have been looking for or how many might be missing from this school.

But, you know, that's what they were going by early. I think that's what we're trying to work from. But we haven't had any updates information later, in the last few hours.

BOLDUAN: Of course. And it is such a fluid situation, but as you can see, kind of the posture that all of these workers had. How they are so at attention and there's such control of what's going on at the scene.

[11:10:10] It sure seems that something is going on there. Gustavo, there have been some discussion. I've been listening to your conversation with John and Poppy earlier. Do you have word that there is one girl in there that they have located or they think they have located?

VALDES: That seems to be the case. I already spoke with one of the volunteer rescue workers who came out and said they have identified some kind of an l-shape or perhaps like a triangle, that's what we know, in earthquakes, where they find survivor survivors, just enough space for someone to survive.

And in this case, unfortunately, we're talking about very small people that could very well hide in smaller nooks. So, that's what we were hoping, that's what we're going by. That's what seems to be what the little information that's coming out we're getting.

But we're trying to be careful also not to spread whatever might be going on social media. We're just trying to go what we hear from officials and the police and people who -- we have a little bit more of trust in their information.

And let me just tell you, about 30 minutes ago, there was a moment that made everybody take a moment, because they pulled out a playground, one of those plastic playgrounds for preschool children, and everybody had the suspense of what had happened in this school yesterday.

BOLDUAN: I think that kind of drives home the fact that really, the scope of the devastation and the scope of what Mexico City and the surrounding areas are going through right now and the devastation, I don't think anyone has been able to wrap their mind around quite yet. But as the search ==

VALDES: Kate --

BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Gustavo. VALDES: Yes, I would like to make a point. Last night, we came here through the early hours of the morning, and we drove through that good section of the city. And I think it's worth mentioning that the damage and devastation is not as widespread as it was in '85 when most of the city was flattened.

There was electricity in most of the cities of the section. There's water in some parts. It's not as widespread. Thankfully, the damage we've seen has been concentrated in few areas. A building corner to where the school is, it's very severely damaged.

We've witnessed people sleeping on the street medians. They just spread whatever sheet they could to spend the night because obviously they couldn't go back to their homes. But thankfully, the vast majority of the large area of Mexico City, a city where more than 20 million people live, seem to be in good shape.

It's not what we saw in 1985. That was a complete devastation of the city. In this case, the damage is more concentrated in a few -- in fewer areas.

BOLDUAN: Yes, all right. Gustavo is there on the ground. We're keeping our eye on what we hope is a rescue effort right now underway at this elementary school in Mexico City.

We did just get an update from Mexico secretary of public education I want to bring to you. They are reporting that there are three people that are still missing at this elementary school in Mexico City. Three people that are still missing.

The very tragic, news, though, is that they confirmed today that 25 people have been declared dead at the elementary school since the earthquake, 21 of them, children, and four adults. We're keeping our eye very close on this.

But we do need to go from one natural disaster to another. Hurricane Maria, hammering Puerto Rico this morning. Still there, at this moment, what is happening with this storm? How have people ridden it out? We have correspondents throughout the island. We'll get an update on Maria, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:18:20]

BOLDUAN: All right. Right now, Puerto Rico has taken a direct hit from the most powerful hurricane to slam the island in nearly 90 years, if you can believe that, and put that all in perspective. Listen to this.

(VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: That's screaming wind is what everyone who has ridden out the storm keeps talking about and keeps describing that struck them most. Hurricane Maria made landfall this morning and is still lashing the island with 140-mile-an-hour winds. Puerto Rico's governor issuing a dryer warning that the damage will be catastrophic, he says. More than 10,000 people have fled to shelters, but remember, there are 3.5 million people on the island.

And if not in shelters, some took refuge in stairwells and ballrooms of resort hotels. Even a veteran storm chaser filming for "National Geographic" said he's never experienced a storm so powerful or terrifying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE THEISS, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHER (via telephone): It sounds like a woman screaming at the top of her lungs, very high- pitched squealing sound, and it's coming through every crack in this building right now. Every now and then, we hear a big piece of debris hit part of the wall. It will tremble a little bit, but we are definitely taking it pretty hard right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: CNN crews are in place across the region, both where the storm has been and where the devastation is now just coming into view.

Let's begin in Puerto Rico's capital. CNN's Leyla Santiago is in San Juan. Leyla, you've had a rough go of it this morning. I've been watching you all morning, my friend. What is it like right now?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a lot of rain is coming down, but don't be mistaken. That is not the only issue. We are still feeling strong gusts of wind.

[11:20:08] Let's walk you through what we are seeing. I'll be honest with you communication is a bit tough right now. I'm going to walk you through what I'm seeing and what I'm hearing from the people I've been able to talk to.

Check out the debris that has come down in front of the hotel. This is sort of a small sample of what we have seen. When I walked around the building, this is sort of what you see on some of the side streets.

But let me take you over here, where you can see. These palm trees have very little left on top of them. I mean, they have been swaying all morning long, rattled by these strong wind gusts that have come, with Maria.

And let's take it down a little bit, so that you can see the Hard Rock Cafe, here in San Juan. I'll be more specific, for those familiar with this area, this is Condado. The Hard Rock Cafe has lost part of its roof, the sign has come down. A tree is blocking the road in front.

Take it to the side, Starbucks Coffee, just coffee. The sign of Starbucks has come down. Go a little farther to the right and that business has lost its entire door. And the main issue now, not just those winds, but -- because wind gusts like this is what we have been feeling all morning, where you have to kind of take your stance pretty strongly.

But also, the rain that is coming down. I actually was just talking about one of the police officers here, and he was saying he is not sending crews out yet, because it is just not safe enough.

But he is already getting reports of flooded streets, flooded roads out there, damage to buildings in San Juan. I reached out to some people I've been talking to on the southern part of the island.

Haven't been able to get ahold of them, which is something that a woman here who's trying to reach her family, she says she's having a hard time, too. But was a I believe to get some pictures that show quite a bit of flooding in that area, as well.

So, search and rescue teams are on standby, but they are not going out just yet, calling it too dangerous, at this point. Even though we are on the end of this system coming in, and we have likely seen the worst of it.

That is the worst of the storm. As far as the rebuilding and what it will take after all of this, I'm not sure that we've seen the worst of that, yet -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right. Leyla, thank you so much. You've been doing an amazing job of being our eyes and ears on the ground, and literally being thrown around by the wind this morning. So, thank you so much, and thank you. Please stay safe, continue to stay safe.

I want to go now go to CNN's Rafael Romo who is on the eastern part of the island of Puerto Rico, which took the brunt of the storm. Rafael, how's it looking right now?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: Kate, I could begin by telling you, this was a Category 4 hurricane that hit the island shortly after 6:00 this morning. I could also tell you that it is the strongest in almost 90 years.

But -- and Leyla mentioned something about this, but I want to show you, because it is very evident here on this side of the island, if you look at the palm trees around here, they have absolutely no leaves, whatsoever.

No matter where you go here, there are no leaves that were left on the palm trees. All you see are the trunks. This s is what a Category 4, Category 5 hurricane will do to the vegetation around here. Look at -- take a look around me. I'm surrounded by debris.

All kinds of different debris. We see a lot of installation, for example. I'm pretty sure that's what it is. There's also a lot of pieces of loose metal. But then there's a lot of other things that I don't even know what they are, that flew from somewhere.

And that was because the force of the winds was so strong overnight that it did considerable damage to some of the main buildings on Fajardo. The thing is, if those buildings were so badly damaged, just imagine, Kate, how bad it ended up being the houses that are not built for hurricane strength winds.

It is a very delicate situation. And also, we have to take into account that more than half the island remains without power and is going to be weeks and weeks, Kate, before things go back to normal. Back to you.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Rafael there, as well. As we've seen from the images this morning to what we're seeing right now, a lot is changing. This storm, as we've seen in the past, can change so quickly and what it looks like on the ground.

[11:25:04] Just look at this from earlier today in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The whipping winds with, the torrential rains. This is one of so many images and videos that have been brought in of the storm.

Just moments ago, the National Hurricane Center released its new update on Hurricane Maria. Let's go now to the CNN Weather Center and CNN meteorologist, Chad Myers. Chad, where is this history-making storm right now?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Just moving offshore, west of San Juan, Puerto Rico. So about to get back in the water and try to regain strength. It took about five hours to go all the way from Palmos Delmar, where our Nick Paton Walsh is, to the west of San Juan, as it's going to exit into the ocean.

So, there you go. This is what happened, though, to St. Croix in the overnight hours. A direct hit or very close, with the northern eye wall here, just on the southwest tip of the island. And that's where the significant damage, I believe, will be.

The farther you get toward the east, slightly less, but really, we're talking about 145-mile-per-hour compared to 120 miles per hour. So, big damage happened there, still trying to get crews in contact with that island there.

Here we go. As it made landfall around 6:00, and I would love to show you the radar from Puerto Rico, but at this exact point is where the radar failed. So, we have been blind when it comes to radar over Puerto Rico all day showing you the satellite.

But I believe the eye to be right there. Right in the yellow spot. Not the blue spot. That just going to be dry slot in the hurricane itself, but 140-mile-per-hour winds still at that advisory at 11:00, moving offshore eventually and then beginning to get to the Dominican Republic, with winds 70 to 100 miles per hour, just slightly offshore.

But where does it do from there? It turns to the right and very close to the middle, between Bermuda and the U.S. Slightly farther to the east than we were yesterday, at this time, and so we'll still watch to see if this thing wiggles back and forth. But for now, no real problems.

And one more thing, Kate, this is not related to the hurricane, but this is related to about 100 tweets they picked up this morning. Why have we had no aftershocks in Mexico? In fact, zero. When do you ever get a 7.5 earthquake with not even an aftershock of 2.0?

BOLDUAN: Great question.

MYERS: So I called the USGS and said, are you worried? Does this mean that something much more sinister can happen? They said there is nothing compared to the 7.0, there's no compatibility, there's nothing relative about if it happened or if those aftershocks are not happening.

We're not even concerned, it's been 18 hours. Geological times, 4.6 or so billion years, 18 hours in geological times is nothing. Please don't be worried about it. That's what they told me. Be worried about the flooding in Puerto Rico. That's the big story today.

BOLDUAN: And unfortunately, there are so many things to be worried about right now, in terms of natural disasters. Chad, just one quick question. From the track I'm looking at, this can be days out and things can always change, is the U.S. mainland in the clear?

MYERS: No. Absolutely not. Absolutely not in the clear because here's where we are. This is five days away.

BOLDUAN: Right.

MYERS: The hurricane can be anywhere in there. This is the official and a National Hurricane Center forecast, and think of the cone as a series of circles, and so this is the end circle. That would be the middle point of the end circle.

It could be here if it's fast. Could be here if it's right. Could be here if it's left. Could be back here if it's low. That's what that circle means. That's why it's a round at the end. But as the storm moves to the north, it could still -- this is day six, day seven, day eight.

And let me tell you, models at day six, day seven, day eight, it's a guess. There's no chance that there's any significant skill. We could be here. Let's just continue the cone, all right?

It could be here, or we could be here. That's not even -- that's not even an accurate forecast. That's almost a thousand miles across, so we can't take that into account just yet, but for now, no models onshore.

BOLDUAN: We'll stick close to it as we always have to say. Thank you, Chad. Thank you so much. We're keeping our eye very close on the earthquake in Mexico, as Chad was talking about.

But we're also -- I want to go to someone who rode out the storm in Puerto Rico. Joining me right now on the phone from San Juan is Fred Rasmussen. Fred, can you hear me?

FRED RASMUSSEN, RIDING OUT HURRICANE IN PUERTO RICO (via telephone): Yes. I can.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much. You're a contractor from the great state of Michigan, who's actually been working on a construction project in Puerto Rico. You've been -- what I'm hearing, you've been holed up in an office building during this storm. And looking at some pictures right now, Fred, that you were able to send to us of what you've seen, what is the situation where you are right now, Fred?

RASMUSSEN: Well, the situation now is that it's died down a lot. The sustained winds have died down a lot, but we still have those big, bursting gusts that are, I mean, I would guess, still around up to 80 miles an hour.

And I'm up on the sixth floor, the upper level of our office building right now and I mean, it's still moving our roof around up here --